A Classic Case of Cold Feet?
March 17, 2010 6:55 PM   Subscribe

We've been going out for three months and suddenly he's starting to freak out. He's got all the symptoms of the classic cold feet you see in the movies. Our relationship is still very new but good, and loving, but he's building up all this irrational stress about being in a committed relationship is cutting off his options and he's afraid he'll hurt me because he can't trust himself if he's tempted.

I'm a 27 year old female with lots of dating experience and I've lived and learned and know what I want, I'm also very open and understanding (sometimes to my detriment) and with much more advanced maturity. He's a 33 year old male with limited dating experience, two long terms, and about a two year dry spell before me. We've had some really good, honest conversations and while everything is going swimmingly with us, he's scared by how much he's opening up to me and letting me in. He playfully acknowledges he's a baby, and selfish, and crazy. There's no one else he wants to be with, and he doesn't want to lose me, it's just the idea of imposed restrictions. He's the one who first brought up that he didn't want me to see other people, and wanted to just see each other. I've tried to explain that both men and women get attracted to other people, but just because I meet some hot sexy guy, doesn't mean I have to worry I'm going to cheat- I weigh the option of a possible meaningless something with a stranger versus a loving relationship and I rationally know the correct choice. I'm not a cheater, or jealous so it's a little hard for me to see his fears as anything but madness that needs to be overcome in order to grow and enjoy a real relationship, right? So, as this seems like a typical young guy needs to grow up and be a rational caring adult, how can I help him? Or can I? Or should I DTMFA?

I looked through some old threads, and this one was very helpful regarding infidelity, but I thought this also might be helpful for others who encounter guys like this.
posted by sweetmarie to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh pleezzeee... he's afraid he'll hurt you because he can't trust himself?

He's immature...you can't help him, he's in need of experience.

Move on.
posted by america4 at 7:00 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

he's afraid he'll hurt me because he can't trust himself if he's tempted.
He playfully acknowledges he's a baby, and selfish, and crazy.

You're the only one of us who's with him, but on paper this sounds like "listen to him when he tells you about himself." You're only three months in and he's already asking forgiveness in advance for cheating and warning you that he isn't ready for a relationship (or whatever else baby, selfish, crazy means). I would take that to mean he will cheat on you and he isn't ready for a relationship.

Verdict: Ciao, bambino!
posted by sallybrown at 7:02 PM on March 17, 2010 [11 favorites]

I hate to pile on here, but yeah, it sounds he's not mature enough for a long term relationship yet. And at 33, he's too old to be playing that game. He's not likely to ever change.

I think the key word here is "selfish".
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:07 PM on March 17, 2010

He's preparing you for when he cheats, so that he can say he warned you.
posted by amro at 7:26 PM on March 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

Wow, reading your post is like getting in a time machine and revisiting all the awful boyfriends I had in my late 20's and early 30's. It's probably going to take getting burned a few more times before you really "hear" what they are telling you. He's telling you he's not ready to be committed, to be a good boyfriend, to be emotionally intimate. He's telling you that now because when he's a complete jerk in 2 months he'll pull the "I told you I wasn't ready" card.

I love and appreciate that you are open and understanding. Please find someone who shares these traits, not someone who requires that you rely on those traits just to be with them. In essence, what everyone else is saying.
posted by victoriab at 7:32 PM on March 17, 2010

Put your shoes by the door, but don't go running away yet. He's been open and honest with you and ya'll have good times. Give him a chance, he might grow up to be quite a prize. If you feel things get a bit too crazy at times, just quietly ask "How much longer does this relationship have to go on before this isn't an issue?" His answer should guide you as how he's doing and what you should do in response.

Good luck!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:39 PM on March 17, 2010

I would say to him, sounds like you’re afraid of intimacy. Why are you afraid of that? What happened in your previous relationships?

Does he want to screw around and sow his wild oats? He doesn’t want to hurt you, yet he’s afraid of limiting his options. What is he afraid of missing out on, or is that a cover for being afraid of intimacy? So, the question becomes, does he want to be with you or not? If being monogamous is a condition of being with you, then he has to choose to accept that or not. Or does he feel like he’s “going against his nature” by having to be monogamous? Like, he thinks he “should” be monogamous but he really isn’t (and that’s why he imposed the restriction (that he doesn’t like) that you will only see each other)? He just has to be really honest about what he wants. If he’s a baby, selfish and crazy, he probably wants to do everything at his own whim, not have consequences, and go back to mommy. So I think you have to be really clear with him: if he DOES cheat on you, you’re gone. Don’t use the strategy of assuaging his fears of potentially cheating on you: make him more scared about what will happen if he does. He said he doesn’t want to lose you, right? Well, that’s a pretty good way of doing so.

So, quoting victoriab: when he’s a jerk in 2 months and pulls the “I told you I wasn’t ready” card, you can pull your “And I told you I’m gone if you cheated” card.
posted by foxjacket at 7:42 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

at 33 he is young, but not young , if that makes sense. Hells bells, at 33 I was married for 9 years.

The word is immature, typically at 33 you are starting to get your shit together not still worrying about playing the field.

Now, for those into that sort of thing, hey whatever floats your boat, but I wager in 10 - 15 years time he'll be the equivalent of the open shirt, gold chain on harry chest "swinger" who is still hitting on 20 somethings.

Except in abusive situation I never say absolutment DTMFA, but you have big huge red flags waving at you. The relationship is very likely going to be tumultuous if you try and stick it out.

(he is not being a "baby", or being "crazy" he is exhibiting assholish passive aggressiveness behavior)
posted by edgeways at 7:47 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you do stay with him, you need to rearrange the rules - someone who is worried that he may cheat on you has no business asking you for a commitment. If he pulls some bull about needed that before he can trust you enough to feel like he can be faithful, back away slowly and when you get to a safe distance, turn and run.

Also, and I don't mean to be harsh, but do you have any reason to believe these talks about how "he's scared by how much he's opening up to me and letting me in" is just sweet talk from him? A more articulate version of "Your dad must be a thief because he stole the stars for your eyes."

If you do stick around, pick up all the clues you can about his past relationships. It's possible he's coming off a bad one and not quite ready yet. It's also possible he's a big baby.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:50 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

So I think you have to be really clear with him: if he DOES cheat on you, you’re gone.

Foxjacket - Although I agree with this phrase in spirit, I don't recommend it as a "ground-rule setting" strategy. I say this because I don't think she can control his cheating. If he's going to cheat, he's going to cheat. But now, he's going to be WAY more crafty about it and when confronted, he'll deny it 'till the sun burns out. Because really, what has he got to lose by lying at that point. The other tragic side effect is that she'll never believe him when he says he hasn't cheated because she's made being honest (about this issue) the nuclear option.
posted by victoriab at 9:07 PM on March 17, 2010

If he says he is a baby, selfish, and crazy, believe him. And react accordingly. If you have only been dating for three months and he is already worried about cheating then he probably isn't the one for you. You want someone who wants YOU, not someone who is so busy worring about themselves that they are already bucking against 'imposed restrictions'.
posted by MsKim at 10:15 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

This sounds all too familiar. From personal experience with a guy like this, I have to say the prognosis looks grim. Forgive my utter bluntness, if I were you, I would not waste any more of my time waiting for and (good God) helping him to get his shit together as a mature human being. Nope.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:46 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Three months in and you are already seeing some major red flags? I say RUN. RUN FAST. RUN FAR. This level of selfishness does not change. If anything, it only gets worse. You do not want to be posting an issue related to this THREE years from now. I know you don't. You know you don't. You claim to have a pretty high maturity level and I trust you, so do not give in to the excuses and the bullshit and feed the drama that will only get worse over time.
posted by penguingrl at 3:33 AM on March 18, 2010

he's afraid he'll hurt me because he can't trust himself if he's tempted.

This is utter crap. He's disavowing responsibility for actions that are completely under his control. He's claiming to care for you but preparing you for the agony he expects to inflict. He's not committed to your relationship; he's playing a Committed Relationship pretend game. He will soon tire of it and stop playing.
posted by jon1270 at 3:56 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh, I've been with a man like this. It did not end well.

Things I've learned/decided, based on that experience, include the following:

- People only worry that they'll do X crappy thing because they know they're capable of doing it. Right now, I'm a bit worried that I'll forget to get some employees' pay claims in to the right office by the right time, because even though I wouldn't want to do it, I know that isn't beyond me. But I'm not worried I'll rob a bank, because robbing a bank falls far outside my normal behaviour. Same with cheating - not worried I'll do it, because I know fine well I wouldn't. Someone telling me that they're worried they'll cheat on me is telling me that cheating on me is not outside their standard range of behaviour - and I've never known somebody say "I'm afraid I'll hurt you" who didn't end up doing exactly that.

- Someone not wanting to lose me does not, unfortunately, immunise the relationship against them acting in ways that might lead to that. It just means that if they're going to do that, they'll hide it.

- Fear of letting the other person get too close + fear that a committed relationship means cutting off options = trouble brewing.

- It is so tempting to want to help the person telling you that they've freaked out by the intimacy, because if you're a happy functional person who wants a close relationship, intimacy is a wonderful thing and you want them to appreciate it too. But fear is a deep, primal response, and if they're going to act on that there's nothing you can do to reason them round on an intellectual level.

I'm not a cheater, or jealous so it's a little hard for me to see his fears as anything but madness that needs to be overcome in order to grow and enjoy a real relationship, right?

Right - you're not a cheater, you're not capable of acting the way he fears you/he will, you're not freaked out by the prospect of intimacy, so of course it doesn't seem like a big parade of waving red flags to you, because it's totally outside the way you'd ever think or behave. That's totally reasonable, but it's also a pathway to heartbreak. I thought exactly the same way in that relationship of mine, and it hurt like a sucking chest wound the day I found out that he was cheating on me. You don't want that to be you.
posted by Catseye at 4:02 AM on March 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

What's a 5 letter acronym that starts with D and ends with A?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:17 AM on March 18, 2010

I absolutely said that if he cheats, that's the end of us.

He's not the smooth operator type, so I dont think these are lines, but he did admit to having cheated before and that it's something he doesn't want to do to me but he knows he's capable of. I think he's legitimately wrestling with these fears.

And it is crazy red flags, which is why I sought the help of the hive mind, my emotions are involved so I needed some more impartial views. But it also seemed like some kind of immature mental block where he's letting the idea of the other spoil what he has, but maybe it's not something that I can help him get past.
posted by sweetmarie at 6:45 AM on March 18, 2010

I absolutely said that if he cheats, that's the end of us.

But you may never find out, or not find out for a long time. Are you going to be suspicious of everything he does and uncomfortable every time he goes out without you? Will you be tempted to check his email and phone? That's not the kind of relationship that I would want to be in.
posted by amro at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2010

I think he's legitimately wrestling with these fears.

Yeah, probably. I doubt he's got some nefarious plan here. Red flags don't have to signal 'evil', though; they just signal 'watch out, bad stuff up ahead.' It can be some kind of immature/mixed-up/whatever mental block he's dealing with that he legitimately worries about, and it can still end up causing you a hell of a lot of pain down the road. Voice of bitter, bitter experience here: those things aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by Catseye at 7:08 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

I absolutely said that if he cheats, that's the end of us.

In other words, if he cheats, he better try his best to make sure you'll never find out because you'd end the relationship. If you're going to stick with this, I'd say that valuing honesty is more important. Tell him that you appreciate his apprehension and honesty, and that you care and you'd address that sort of situation if it happens. Worrying about it is only giving it time.

Of course, I'd actually recommend you DTMFA if he does cheat unless there's some ridiculous extenuating circumstance, but I wouldn't let him know that's the plan.
posted by mikeh at 7:13 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

He is laying the groundwork for cheating and/or insisting on an open relationship. Considering he was the first person to bring up monogamy, it's probably cheating.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:03 PM on March 18, 2010

Oh and BTW classic cold feet is more like, hey, I'm nervous about making a life-long commitment, not hey, I'm nervous because I dated someone monogamously for a few months.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:04 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

And after reading your followup (missed it before) he is a smooth operator, at least smooth enough to have cheated before.

I said that he's laying groundwork for cheating, I don't necessarily mean consciously. He's telling you--and telling himself--that he is trying his hardest, but he still might not be able to control himself around other women. That attitude is not conducive to long-term monogamy.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:07 PM on March 18, 2010

hmm.. this all sounds a bit familiar. call him out and tell him to commit or you are walking.

my girlfriend did that to me and I ended up marrying her. 5 yrs coming up next month. he just needs a slap.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:28 PM on March 18, 2010

Thanks everyone. I know I deserve someone who appreciates me, and this crap is frustrating. We're going to have to hash things out and lay everything on the table, but he may just not be worth the effort...
posted by sweetmarie at 9:00 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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